The Color of Money (1986)

The Rules of the Game

I’ve never been more aroused by a film’s editing and cinematography than that featured in The Color of Money, a film which I ultimately enjoyed more than it’s predecessor The Hustler. It just so happens I first watched The Color of Money during my time as a film student and attempted to replicate many of the film’s shots and edits for a music video (and an intentionally 80’s music video at that) as I studied the cuts present in the film frame by frame. Needless to say, I was not entirely successful in my endeavour.

The Color of Money has the fast pace and rhythm of MTV music videos but still with a sense of old-school class and sophistication; right from the opening credits, I can tell this would be a movie dripping in atmosphere. A movie so snappy, fast-paced and full of quick edits, many of which come unexpectedly along with many unconventional camera movements yet it never feels disorientating or distracting as the scenes glide with such fluidity and ease. The cinematography on display here isn’t that of a David Lean production, no this is a movie which largely takes place in bars and pool halls yet it still has a sense of majesty and scope even if the shot in question is a close up of a drinking glass. Really the only edit I can fault is the very cheesy freeze frame of Paul Newman jumping out of a swimming pool. On the other hand, nobody uses licensed soundtracks better than Martin Scorsese. I get the impression scenes in the film were shot with the music in mind and not as an afterthought. With the opening scene, it feels like Phil Collins’ One More Night was specifically composed to fit the mood and tone of the scene.

The Color of Money however is not style over substance. I love the intriguing character triangle of a trio of hustlers as well as the harmony of two generations coming together. Tom Cruise is an actor I only like in certain parts but in roles such as Vincent, a cocky, male fantasy indulging character who embodies the entrepreneurial and capitalistic spirit of the 1980’s (like his character in Risky Business), I simply revel in – as Eddie puts it “a natural character”. Just as impressive are pool shots done by Cruise himself (he performed all but one of his own trick shots); makes me energised to play some pool myself.

Rocky IV (1985)

80’s: The Movie

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Rocky IV is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. If there was ever a movie I can turn to for just 90 minutes of pure, immense, adrenaline filled, inspirational entertainment, it’s Rocky IV. The runtime is the shortest of the series, but those 90 minutes are perfect. The poster for Rocky IV is displayed proudly in my bedroom, and every now and then I look at it in all its majesty with Rocky sticking his glove up in the air while draped in the stars and stripes. I feel the Rocky movies had the ideal lifespan for a movie franchise; start off serious, goof out for some fun, but then end again on a serious note.

There’s no question about it, Rocky IV is the most 80’s movie ever. Case in point:

– Synthesized rock soundtrack.

-Cold war propaganda.

-Conservative, Reagan era values.

-MTV music video style montages.

-Larger than life villain.

-It’s a sequel of a long-running franchise.

-There’s a robot.

-Rocky drives a sports car.

-Display of decadence.

-Brigitte Nielsen, star of other very 80’s movies Red Sonja and Cobra.

-Action movie revenge plot.

-Full of cheesy/corny quotable lines (“If he dies, he dies”, “Whatever he hits, he destroys”).

Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky IV came from the two fights between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938 respectively; two fights which embodied the political and social conflict of the time – an African American taking on a supposed representation of Aryan superiority. Thus in Rocky IV we get Ivan Drago, the terrifying Aryan superman Rocky must challenge to avenge the death of his friend (could that sound more 80’s?).  Ivan Drago is a terminator; the strongest opponent humanly possible; however is Drago an interesting villain? I say yes; one of my favourite screen villains of all time as a matter of fact. In a memorable Siskel & Ebert moment, Roger Ebert described Drago as a “moderately interesting villain” but complained “how come he never has a single scene alone with his wife” and “why does she have nine times more dialogue than he has?”. Drago doesn’t speak for himself as there is no individualism in communism. I feel Dolph Lundgren gives a great physical performance, playing a character who is the opposite of Clubber Lang in that he speaks few words; succeeding in being an intimidating monster with his physical presence alone. I also love Drago’s reaction to Apollo’s entrance at the exhibition fight; that of a Soviet being welcomed to America.

Ivan Drago is a product of a state that sponsors his training as exemplified in the movie’s two training montages. Drago’s music theme is cold, intimidating and mechanical, just like his training. He is given steroids by his trainers and at a press conference an American reporter says “There have been rumors of blood doping and widespread distribution of anabolic steroids in the Soviet Union”; feels like an eerie foreshadowing to the state-operated Russian doping scandal of 2016. Following the boycotts at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, Rocky IV couldn’t have come at a better time when sports and politics were going hand in hand. Drago’s fit of rage near the end of the fight in which he proclaims “I fight to win. For me! For me!”, is clearly a jab at communism as he wants to work for himself and not for the glory of the country. Likewise, when he lifts up and throws the Russian official who criticises him, it’s a classic Frankenstein moment; the monster turning on its creator.

Apollo Creed’s entrance, on the other hand, is one of the most capitalistic things ever put on film, with James Brown singing Living In America among Belly Dancers and Apollo Creed dressed in stars and stripes; and to top it all off, it’s in Las Vegas. A stark contrast to the Russians who open the Rocky-Drago fight later in the movie to their national anthem (yet another awe-inspiring musical highlight in the film). Did Apollo’s ego untimely kill him? Apollo’s patriotic egotism clouded his better judgment and no idea just how strong Drago would be. The sheer power of Drago’s punches during the fight with Creed (if you could even call it that) is exemplified by the sound effects. Also, why does Drago receives no punishment for throwing the referee aside, but if I was going to point out every little thing in this movie which makes no sense I’d be here all day. There’s such brutality to Creed’s death; such slow motion brutality. I’ll never forget my mum’s reaction the first time I watched Rocky IV, a gasping “oh my God!”.

When I was studying for my GCSE examinations, the Rocky IV soundtrack was one of my primary sources of music listening. Whenever I have a stressful day of work I listen to the Rocky IV soundtrack when I need that extra bit of adrenaline to make me go on. Feeling down? Rocky IV soundtrack! Need inspiration?  Rocky IV soundtrack! Having a workout? Rocky IV soundtrack! 20% of the Rocky IV or 23 minutes is comprised montages with songs which can make anything look epic in one of the epitomes of the 1980’s soundtrack; everything you would expect from a score which won the Razzi for worst music score. The score by Vince diCola has been officially released but copies are not easy to come by. The actual Rocky IV soundtrack features different versions of War and Training Montage than those which appear in the film, although these variants are good in their own right.

If there is one word associated with Rocky IV, its montage. I can watch these montages over and over again and still be enthralled by them. The first training montage is heavy on its symbolism of nature vs. machine and showcases the beauty of the Russian wilderness. Ok, it’s actually Wyoming but I can buy into it being a vast frozen expanse of the Soviet Union. But it’s training montage number 2 which has to be my favourite training montage in film history. This is partly due to John Cafferty’s Hearts on Fire – a motivating, pumping song if there ever was one. That synth, god I love it! In the spirit of everything in Rocky IV being larger than life, instead of running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the montage ends with Rocky climbing a mountain.

The editing of Rocky IV also contributes to the film’s bombastic nature. The transitional shots of magazine covers and newspaper articles make the film play out like more of a comic book than it already is. Likewise, shots such as that of Rocky’s Russian chaperone looking into binoculars gets repeated three times within a few seconds but zoomed in further each time and edited to the rhythm of the score; it’s just so cool. On the other hand, I even recall a review I heard for Star Wars: The Forces Awakens refer the final shot of that movie as a Rocky IV shot, in reference to the aerial shot of Rocky on top of the mountain. Is Rocky IV a more influential than the history books say?

Rocky IV is incredibly distant from the first movie but this is appropriate as Rocky is out of his element and in a foreign land. This is the only film in the series not to take place in Philadelphia unless you include the scene in the Balboa mansion although it’s never made clear where the mansion is located. The No Easy Way Out montage provides you with clips from the first movie, so it the film itself allows you to bask in the stark contrast between the movies; a man who used to be a not very intelligent nobody and made money from prizefighting and working for a loan shark is now at the center of international politics.

Even the sheer predictably of Rocky IV is wonderful, such as when Adrian shows up in Russia to support Rocky; it’s all cliché but in the best sense of the word. The build-up to the final fight and the atmosphere is so immense; there could never be a Rocky film more epic than this. By this point, I’m actually scared for Rocky and fearful for his life, and Paulie’s emotional outpour before the fight, it gets me every time. I don’t care what anyone says, this is the greatest fight in film history. Rules don’t apply and Rocky somehow lasts the 15 rounds and even wins over the crowd (“Suddenly Moscow is pro-Rocky!”). This isn’t just Rocky against another opponent, this is Rocky against a superhuman, a hostile crowd, a Mikhail Gorbachev lookalike and an entire world superpower. Keep your superhero movies with their city-destroying battles; this is what I call a duel! Rocky’s final speech is naive in the most wonderful way. The words of the speech are so juvenile, yet when I hear Stallone utter them in the movie; it brings a tear to my eye. Did Rocky IV really help end the cold war? Who knows? Oh, and the end credits provide us with yet another awesome montage!

Rocky IV embodies the essence of capitalism the American Dream; if you work hard, success is attainable. I know many would just look at the movie and scoff at it as a simplified look at the Cold War with an “us and them” mentality. But as a piece of propaganda does it work? Oh, you bet it does. Rocky IV, I salute you to your over the top, cheesy 80’s perfection.

Rocky IV > Citizen Kane

Rocky III (1982)

Rocky III: An American Tradition

After the recap of the fight from the previous movie, Rocky III opens with a montage which begins with fireworks and giant light up sign of Rocky as if to say “Welcome to the 80’s!”; a decade when everything was larger than life. The song of choice is Eye of Tiger, the montage is edited like an MTV music video and Rocky even appears on The Muppet Show; and all that merchandise, me want!

Rocky III is ridiculously entertaining while still managing to have thematic substance. Rocky is no longer struggling with fame. A man who couldn’t film a simple commercial in Rocky II is now making all sorts of endorsements. He could barely drive a car in Rocky II, now he can now drive with ease. Rocky has also become a more intelligent man instead of the dum dum he was in first two movies. Not to mention does he looks different, very handsome I might add and in such physical shape. I think Stallone looks like Al Pacino here, especially when wearing a suit.

Rocky III brought the series in a different direction, distant from the first two movies. But despite Rocky’s wealth and fame, Rocky III is not a movie which cheapens out. The primary theme of the movie is about Rocky’s fame making him soft or as Mickey puts it, “You got civilised”. Once Rocky discovers Mickey has been hand picking fighters his seemingly perfect bubble of a life is burst; “You wake up after a few years, thinking you’re a winner, but you’re not, you’re really a loser”. This continues the series theme of being semi-autobiographical of Stallone’s own life as the movie examines what fame and fortune can do to a person. Adrian’s role is smaller is time round although her character still sees an evolution as the famous lifestyle has taken away her shyness and made her more outspoken and pretty hot too I might add. Just listen to the words of motivation she gives Rocky on the beach; a far cry from the Adrian in the first movie.

Even when Rocky discovers Mickey has been hand picking fighters prior to his first fight with Clubber Lang, Rocky is training in the most superficial gym. It’s full of photographers and visitors, musicians are playing and merchandise is being sold.  Unsurprisingly he gets the worst beating of his life at the hands of Clubber Lang. The solution to Rocky getting his so-called “eye of the tiger” back; get away from the superficiality of his wealthy lifestyle and back to the nitty-gritty. As Apollo Creed puts it, “Man, when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger man, the edge! And the only way to get it back is to go back to the beginning; you know what I’m saying?”. I stick by these words as some of the wisest words I’ve heard uttered in a motion picture. Whenever you lose your mindset of determination whether physically or mentality, go back to where you first started in order to reclaim it. Rocky III humanises Apollo Creed with Rocky and Apollo becoming friends being a great spin on the story. I always think of his intense shouting of “There is no tomorrow!” whenever I need some motivation.

The hypnotic, uneasy music which plays when Rocky is training poorly under Apollo and stuck with the threat of living with failure reminds me of Bernard Herman’s score to Vertigo in possibly the most uneasy scenes in the series. Likewise, the scene of Paulie in the arcade has to be the most surreal scene in the entire series in which he throws a bottle pinball machine in slow motion complete with odd sound effects; it’s an image which doesn’t leave your head.

Mr. T as Clubber Lang, oh man! What a beast! A true larger than life villain with outbursts of immensely entertaining lightning fast dialogue; he sure has a way with words with such a violent temper and high levels of anger. You do not want to be stuck in an elevator with this guy. Which raises the question; is Clubber responsible for the death of Mickey by pushing him to the side? Yet even close to death Mickey can still inspire with scenery-chewing words of motivation; his death being one of the series most emotional moments. The boxer vs. wrestler charity fight on the other hand between Rocky and Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) has nothing to do with the rest of the movie but dam is it entertaining. It’s so over the top with such intense pain on display. The referee and police officers are thrown to the side, the audience is assaulted and even Paulie gets in on the action (I do love those bits of humour Paulie provides).

The final fight in Rocky III is the only in ring fight in the series which takes place in real time until Creed.  Meanwhile, the final scene of the movie is such fun, with Rocky and Apollo playing off each other which along with the training montage gives off some homoerotic vibes along the way with sweaty, shirtless, muscular men in tank tops as well as men hugging and jumping in the sea.

Also, the film’s trailer refers to Rocky III as an “American tradition”. What’s the tradition? Hollywood sequels?

Vacation (1983)

Getting Away From It All

The noble all American pursuit of taking your family on vacation (or holiday as we call it in the UK); that is the ultimate aim of Clark Griswold. Chevy Chase is Clark Griswold in one of those roles which is so identified with one actor. He’s such a family man in an extreme yet subtly comic way with is repressed frustration making him a ticking time bomb. He’s a proponent of the American dream if there ever was one; an unashamedly white Anglo Saxon protestant who takes family ideals a little too far at times.

Vacation is my favourite John Hughes movie and a very American movie at that. You can’t do this in the UK; here you can hop in your car and you will be at the other end of the country in a day. It seems like the idea of a road trip was designed for the vast open country of the United States in which you drive for days on end. However, the theme of vacation (or holiday) frustration is relatable to anyone who has been on vacation. As Clark puts it “When I was a boy just about every summer we would take a vacation, and you know in 18 years, we never had fun”. Even the most out there jokes such as the car still moving while Clark has fallen asleep at the wheel or the death of the aunt still manage to feel relatable to some degree and remain grounded in reality.

Road movies give some of the best opportunity to create great amounts of character development and I feel there are few other writers in cinema history who had the ability to generate so much character development within such a short space of time than John Hughes; and like The Blues Mobile of The Blues Brothers, the car in Vacation is a character itself. As seen in many of Hughes’ film, the kids and/or young people are fully sexually aware (In Vacation Rusty’s cousin teaches him about masturbation for the first time) which I find liberating to watch as Hughes is a writer who treats young people like adults with themes which were explored further in films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Sigh, why wasn’t I a child of the 80’s?

Vacation is one of the most summery movies; watch it during the cold months of the year to escape the winter blues.

Superman III (1983)

Clark V Superman

I don’t deny Superman III is a flawed movie but damned if I didn’t have fun with it! Even during the opening scene I prior to the credits I already found myself relating to Richard Pryor’s character of Gus Gorman and I thought this was supposed to be a bad movie? The monotony of a Benefits office and the employees who don’t want to be there and that they probably don’t like you as evident through their body language. Then Gus complains about his experience being employed by a fast food restaurant and how “they expect you to learn that stuff in one day”. Let’s just say I’ve had some similar real-life experiences. Untimely I enjoyed his character and didn’t mind him sharing the spotlight with Superman in terms of screen time.

The opening credits do look like they were done on Windows Movie Maker (or whatever the 1980’s equivalent was) but I won’t lie if I didn’t say the slapstick comedy in the opening credits doesn’t amuse me. The slapstick is at least done a director who understands and knows how to do physical comedy but how do I justify the use of slapstick in a movie which likely didn’t need it to be used to such a degree? I could say it ties in with the fact that Clark Kent is a bumbling fool, plus the series is light-hearted and campy as a whole, so there are other movies in which the inclusion of widespread slapstick comedy could feel more out of place. Regardless, it gets a few laughs out of me. Not all of the comedy is successful in my eyes; the scene in which Gus explains Superman’s exploits in Columbia is really head scratching-ly bizarre (just an odd way of progressing the plot) plus the green man and the red man in the pedestrian traffic light was going too far but I do enjoy the gags which use Superman’s powers for comedic effect such as his altering of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the blowing out of the Olympic Torch.

The villain Ross Webster comes off as a lesser Lex Luthor. I still quite like Robert Vaughn’s charismatic performance but I wish they could have taken the villain in a different direction rather than just being another evil business mogul. Also, why does the villain’s view of Superman flying through the canyon look like a video game? It doesn’t make sense but is fun to watch. However, I will say Vera actually turning into a cyborg was going too far. The action scenes, however, are fantastic, full of creative old-school special effects; the highlight being Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent (a sequence which really shows of what a great actor Christopher Reeve was). Is it ironic in relation to today’s needlessly dark and gritty superhero movies that Evil Superman’s appearance is similar to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, right down to the darkened colours? Forget Batman v Superman, this is where it’s really at!

Like Superman II, the element of the movie I found myself enjoying the most was the character relationships. I was surprised I liked Lana Lang almost as much as I do Lois Lane. Just look at the scene in which Clark and Lana are cleaning up the gym together and she tells him about her ambitions and how she wants to leave Smallville. At this point in the movie, I thought to myself how can people dismiss this movie as much as they do? Yes, it is flawed but when you have brilliant intimate moments like this then how can you not see it isn’t without merit.

Superman II (1980)

Kneel Before Perfection

Due to the complex and troubled production behind Superman II it seems more likely for it to have been a disaster of a film, yet despite of this I consider Superman II to be the perfect Superman film. While I enjoy the first film, I find Superman II improves on it in so many ways, delivering a more emotionally satisfying film. A rare instance of the perfect combination of cast and crew coming together to create something wonderful. I do feel on the whole Richard Lester is a better director than Richard Donner and after seeing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut I thought to myself “thank God Donner was fired from this production”. The romance between Lois and Clark is very forced and underdeveloped; there is a lack of humor, and no exaggeration, one of the absolute worst endings I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick with the Richard Lester version.

The actors of all the Christopher Reeve era Superman films have such a great dynamic together that even in a movie as poor as Superman IV I can still enjoy their interactions. Especially the scenes in the Daily Planet offices have such energy to them and even contains a bit of that His Girl Friday feeling to them with Christopher Reeve having a bit of that Cary Grant to his acting DNA; plus you know an actor is perfect for a role when I find myself accidentally referring to the actor as Clark Kent and not Christopher Reeve. But if there’s anyone who steals the show its Terrance Stamp as General Zod. One of those performances which bring me eternal levels of respect to an actor. Every one of his beautiful hammed up, menacing lines I could listen to all day.

The wonderfully kitsch special effects of Superman II just get better with age; give me these charmingly fake effects over eyesore CGI any day (ok I’ll try and avoid a CGI rant). Likewise the 3rd Rock From the Sun type humor such as Zod and his minions mistaking Earth’s name as planet Houston to the visual comedy (Zod walking on water) has some big laughs (as well as that humorous use of product placement during a fight scene for Marlboro Cigarettes and then Coca-Cola only a few seconds later amuses me).

Many people will say Superman is a boring superhero, what tosh! A guy who makes the world a better place for others who can’t enjoy his own life and has to work with the woman he’s madly in love with, but can’t profess it to her. If that’s that tragic then I don’t know what is. Speaking of romance, that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Superman II; the romance between Lois and Clark is perfect. I so badly wanted to see these two get together, two down to earth souls who are too perfect for each other. Margot Kidder’s voice is so emotive and she has that Margaret Sullavan like quality to her. At the film’s most intense romantic moments her tearful pleas kill me.

Tonight (1984)

Don’t Look Down On This Album

I don’t make any apologies when I say I enjoy this much-dismissed album more than I do some of David Bowie’s more acclaimed works. Tonight is an actual album, unlike Let’s Dance which was more a collection of songs. In fact, from Bowie’s so-called “sell out” period I honestly think Tonight and Never Let Me Down are much stronger albums than Let’s Dance, half of which is comprised of very disposable tracks.

Loving the Alien is one of my very favourite Bowie songs. I didn’t think much of it when I first heard it in a single edit on The Best of Bowie but that changed when I heard the full-length version with the instrumental orchestral second half make for one hell of an atmospheric seven-minute epic. The lyrics are also among some of the most fascinating on a Bowie song, comparing the Templars (Christians) and the Saracens (Muslims) of the Middle Ages to the current Holy War in Palestine today, in other words, history is doomed to repeat itself – and who is the alien? God himself? The one both sides claim to be on their side.

The one issue with Tonight is that most the songs are not actually Bowie songs, they’re mostly covers of Iggy Pop songs but they’re quality covers. Compare them to Bowie and Mick Jagger’s cover of Dancing In the Street, which for the life of me I can’t figure out why people like that cover so much; the covers on Tonight have far superior arrangement and production values. Don’t Look Down is one of Bowie’s most relaxing songs, I don’t know how anyone could listen to it and say “this is a bad song”. Never being a Beach Boys fan, God Only Knows was never a favourite song of mine and I like Bowie’s version more than the original. The orchestral segments of the cover as well as it’s grander and atmospheric nature really does it for me over the original. Tina Turner’s appearance on the song Tonight doesn’t add anything to the song but doesn’t take anything away either, while Neighbourhood Threat is a terrific rocker, it’s so 80’s I love it. I found the final two songs on the album disappointing, I Keep Forgettin’ is disposable while Dancing With the Big Boys doesn’t do anything for me, although even these weak song I consider to be better than Let’s Dance’s weak songs. Also, that beautiful stained glass album cover alone would make Tonight worth buying on vinyl.

Why does 1980’s Bowie get dismissed as much as it does; because an artist who spent the previous decade working in the avant-garde started to make commercial pop music? If David Bowie was a new artist who first hit the scene with Let’s Dance would this output of music be looked upon with more respect? I like both sides of Bowie, the avant-garde and the mainstream pop star. However, if you’re back catalog is only comprised of music which is serious and there’s nothing which is just simply fun and laid back to counterbalance it, then things get stale.

My Top 20 Prince Songs

Sorry if my list is a bit heavy on 1999 and Purple Rain, but those albums are just that good.

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20. Little Red Corvette (1999)

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19. Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? (Prince)

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18. Diamonds and Pearls (Diamonds and Pearls)

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17. Alphabet Street (Lovesexy)

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16. Sometimes It Snows In April (Parade)

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15. Lovesexy (Lovesexy)

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14. Lady Cab Driver (1999)

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13. Take Me With You (Purple Rain)

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12. Baby I’m a Star (Purple Rain)

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11. The Most Beautiful Girl In the Word (The Gold Experience)

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10. Automatic (1999)

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9. Adore (Sign ‘O The Times)

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8. Do Me Baby (Controversy)

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7. Controversy (Controversy)

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6. When Doves Cry (Purple Rain)

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5. Let’s Go Crazy (Purple Rain)

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4. 1999 (1999)

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3. DMSR (1999)

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2. Let’s Pretend We’re Married (1999)

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1. Purple Rain (Purple Rain)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Luke Be a Jedi Tonight!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

It’s not easy calling Return of the Jedi your favourite Star Wars film. Were as when someone says The Empire Strikes Back is their favourite they get cheers from the crowd. Call Return of the Jedi your favourite you get boos and hisses followed by a rigorous defense of your opinion. Well, it could be worse; those who call the prequels their favourite usually get stoned or hanged by a lynch mob.

I find Return of the Jedi to be the film in the series which satisfies me the most in this swashbuckling space adventure. I like how it combines elements from both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back from Hope’s light-hearted nature and the nostalgic return to Tatooine, to Empire’s darker nature with Luke confronting Vader and the Emperor. But when I think Return of the Jedi I think redwood forests. The forest moon of Endor is such a splendour to look at, and once again proves that Planet Earth is the greatest movie set of all.

Let’s talk about everyone’s favourite addition to the Star Wars universe, shall we? I am indeed speaking of the Ewoks. The dismissive statements towards these creatures that the empire was brought down by a bunch of teddy bears I find to be very close-minded. I completely agree with George Lucas that they showcase how it is possible for a primitive race to bring down a technologically advanced superpower such as the empire is inspired by the Viet Cong’s offense against the Americans during the Vietnam War. I like this message as it’s true that the most advanced technology isn’t always the best means; sometimes less is more. I know many say the idea of Ewoks helping bring down the Empire was highly improbable. Well, my answer to that is remember Yoda’s lesson in The Empire Strikes Back, “Judge me by my size do you?”. The cute nature of the Ewoks (along with their whimsy yet epic theme music) provides a counterbalance to the darker scenes in Return of the Jedi. Yet the Ewok’s themselves are not without their own darker side. At one point in the film, they have no remorse when they intend to burn out heroes alive and notice how they use the helmets of dead stormtroopers as musical instruments.

Likewise, Return of the Jedi has too many puppets? I’m used to hearing people complain about movies which use too much CGI but a movie using too many practical effects – that’s a new one. The creature department and their astounding levels of creativity employed for Return of the Jedi hit it out of the park with creations such as the odd-looking yet enamoring fish create that is Admiral Ackbar. It’s just a shame people look at this cynically and say they were just trying to sell toys.

Return of the Jedi does not disappoint in its reveal of Jabba the Hut. The space gangster whose name is mentioned in the previous two movies with no indication as to whether or not he was a human, an alien or something different altogether (at least in the original theatrical versions). In a masterwork of puppetry, Jabba is a wonderfully, horrendous creature design; an extreme, gluttonous version of Sydney Greenstreet. Return of the Jedi also contains the iconic bikini Leia. More than just a sex symbol (insert Tex Avery wolf here), it also gives way to the powerful image of Leia strangler Jabba, her enslaver with the very chains attached to her body.

My favourite action scene in any movie ever is a toss between the final car chase in The Blues Brothers and the escape from Jabba in Return of the Jedi (with the later speeder bike chase not being far behind). Talk about a “How are they going to get out of that?” moment; in which they do in a convincing, heart racing like crazy manner. I love how the escape is one big elaborate plan which all our heroes are in on, not to mention the introduction of Luke’s green lightsaber in a shot that couldn’t look more majestic. Also, I never understood people’s love affair with Boba Fett, so his death didn’t bother me. To the contrary I find his death to be interesting in how unconventional it is; this tough badass who doesn’t go out with a bang, but rather dies in a humiliating fashion. I was more concerned with Lando being on the cusp of death!

The second half of Return of the Jedi is one of the most intense, involving and grand cinematic experiences. Cutting between the assault on the imperial cruisers and the second death star, the assault on Endor and the powerful emotions when Luke is confronting Vader and the senile, scenery chewer that is Emperor Palpatine; it perplexes me that people can put down this movie so much. Having a second Death Star sounds like a lazy idea on paper but I fell they get away with it due to the immaculate execution. I love the incomplete appearance of Death Star II and the film’s final battle involves ships navigating through the tunnels and into the center of the battle station makes for a dogfight even more exciting than that from A New Hope. Likewise, while it’s near impossible to go into these movies for the first time fresh unless you’ve spent your whole life under a rock, but I didn’t have previous knowledge that Luke and Leia are brother and sister; which is one surprise the original Star Wars trilogy had for me.

Science fiction cinema had never seen a finer moment between the final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. The optimism of Luke Skywalker to find the good in someone as evil as Darth Vader and bring him away from the dark side is inspiring in this powerful arch of redemption as Vader returns to the light side just at the very end of his life; a life he sacrificed in order to save Luke’s. The unmasking of Vader is enough to make grown men cry, and seeing the ghost of Anakin Skywalker played Sebastian Shaw (sorry Hayden Christensen) appear to next to the ghosts of Obi-wan and Yoda is awe inspiring. Revenge of the Sith, a Shakespearean tragedy? Pfft, please. This is proper storytelling tragedy. I couldn’t ask for a better finale to a better trilogy. Ah, Return of the Jedi, I know people give you flak but to me, you’re perfect the way you are – Ewoks and all.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back, With a Vengeance!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Empire Strikes Back is my least favourite of the original trilogy, I guess I just prefer the more light-hearted nature of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi (plus when has darkness become a measure of quality?), as well as the sense of closure given by those films but calling it my least favourite is like saying this pizza with 19 slices of pepperoni is it not as good as this pizza with 20 slices of pepperoni. It’s appropriate that the second part of the three-act story is the dark entry so the more light-hearted third act can act as a release from the darkness and despair.

Imagine if Star Wars went in the direction of The Planet of the Apes franchise? It’s a miracle the studio had no input into the film, creating the movie sequel all movie sequels aspire to be. What if it was a rushed out sequel titled Star Wars II? If Jaws started the trend of blockbusters and Star Wars cemented it, then The Empire Strikes Back was the final step in the birth of the blockbusters, by cementing the rules behind the art of the movie sequel (and creating the subtitle any movie sequel wishes they had). However, could the film’s quality also due to Lucas not having any input into the writing or directing of the film?

The Empire Strikes Back is a film of more advanced directorial prowess than A New Hope in this ridiculously fast-paced movie. Right from the start, you can tell the characters within The Empire Strikes Back are much deeper than the first film. Han and Leia are simply one of the greatest romances in all of cinema; the classic tale of two who pretend to hate each other but are secretly in love, a trope as old as cinema. Watch as the two engage in the hottest moments of a generally a-sexual franchise. It’s no surprise the two are posed in the manner of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara on the film’s poster. Yet The Empire Strikes Back introduces the closest thing to rivaling the coolness of Han Solo in the form of Lando Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams, to inject some smooth blaxploitation vibes into the Star Wars universe (not to mention the beauty of the Cloud City theme).

The planets in Star Wars are like characters themselves from the tundra of Hoth providing a counter to the deserts of Tatooine, to the intimacy and poignancy to the scenes on the swamp planet Dagobah and its one (as far as we know) lowly inhabitant. Yoda really is a perfect creation, like Obi-Wan, you do wonder if everything he says is full of nonsense when you break it down but it doesn’t matter. It’s just a shame the perception of the character has become bastardized because of the prequels. Plus what is it about stop-motion that is just endlessly appealing to look at from the long shots of the Tauntauns to those majestic herds of impending was elephants known of AT-ATs during the Battle of Hoth. The manner in which the stop motion doesn’t have the full fluid motion of live action movement but not to the point that it looks choppy is a visual I never tire off.

Although the darkest, The Empire Strikes Back is the funniest film of the series. C-3PO constantly telling people about the improbability of escaping the situation they’re getting themselves into, to Han’s many sarcastic whips never fails to get a laugh. Plus the movie keeps teasing you that you’re going to get to see that iconic jump to light speed shot from the first film, making it all the more satisfying when you finally do get to see it.

Even Darth Vader is significantly deepened as a character in The Empire Strikes back, thanks in part to him getting his own theme music to strike the fear of impending authoritarianism into your heart, but also thanks to certain plot twist.“I am your Father”, the most well-known piece of pop culture knowledge. Is there anyone in the civilised world who doesn’t know Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? Should we try and preserve the secrecy of these plot twists so future generations can enjoy the surprise?